Global success for Glasgow researcher

Published: 26 June 2009

A biomedical scientist studying one of Africa’s biggest killer diseases has won a global research competition.

A biomedical scientist studying one of Africa’s biggest killer diseases has won a global research competition.

Dr Harry de Koning was named as one of the winners of the 10 Gigabase Grant Program run by  pharmaceutical giant, Roche.

Based in the Faculty of Biomedical and Life Science at the University of Glasgow, Dr de Koning’s  work on African sleeping sickness won out from more than 400 applications – the greatest number in the competition’s history. He submitted the research proposal jointly with Professor Pascal Mäser from the Swiss Tropical Institute

The prize is an invitation to send DNA samples to Roche, who will analyse the DNA with their Genome Sequencer FLX System, returning 10 Gigabases of genetic information – a volume of results that would take most scientists many months/years to generate and is only possible with the most advanced sequencing technology.

Dr de Koning said: “To win this award is a real honour for me, the faculty and the University.

“We plan to use the sequencing power of Roche to uncover genetic mutations associated with drug resistance in a parasite species responsible for African trypanosomiasis – more commonly known as sleeping sickness.

“We have studied drug resistance in these parasites for years and learned much about the adaptations by the parasite, but the data generated with the 10GB Grant Program will take us closer to developing DNA-based tests for the diagnostics of drug resistance in sleeping sickness.

“It is true that in global terms, sleeping sickness does not kill on the same scale as, say, malaria. It is squarely in the category of neglected diseases.

“However, it is a terrible and invariably fatal condition and at the moment the few treatments available are unreliable and often dangerous. Many have terrible side effects and yet do not reliably cure the patient because of resistance. Indeed, the current first line treatment can even kill many of those it is meant to treat.

“As new drug development is far off, the best way of improving treatment is to know in advance which patients will react best to what treatments. This is what we are aiming towards with the data generated from this genome sequencing, by developing a simple genetic test.

“This award is recognition of the importance of tackling sleeping sickness and is a real boost for research in this often-overlooked field. It is proof that Roche think that we can make a scientific breakthrough with this work.

“They have chosen a project that will have real impact on health in developing countries.”

The only other award in the scientific world went to a joint submission from Emory University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

The competition is open to all researchers globally.

Professor Paul Hagan, Dean of the Faculty of Biomedical and Life Sciences said: “This award is a fantastic achievement for Dr de Koning and is a testament to the quality of research at the University of Glasgow.

“Our work on sleeping sickness is recognised around the world as being at the forefront of scientific discovery and this success is another mark of that recognition.

“I congratulate Dr de Koning and his team on their efforts and look forward to his analysis of this data.”

Chris McLeod, President and CEO of 454 Life Sciences, a Roche company said: “This year’s grant program received a record number of entrants – a testament to the increasing impact of sequencing as a tool in nearly all fields of biology.”

For more information, contact Ray McHugh in the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 3535 or email

The 10 Gigabase Sequencing and Transcriptome Analysis Grant -

Roche Applied Science

First published: 26 June 2009

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